On an ordinary Wednesday morning, the day began exactly as one would expect in the small suburbs of Sydney. The whistling wind, the glaring rays of the hottest summer since 2006 and a ‘word’ that would lead me on a personal and professional journey. What was that ‘word’? It all began within the field of International Relations (IR), where one name kept popping up, ‘China’. It was like an echo chamber of various scholars, professors and the average Joe who had something to say on the topic. After hours of having ‘China’ hammered into my noggin, I needed a break from hearing the ‘C’ word for a while. I attended an elective class about behavioural psychology. A lady raised her hand to answer a question about the various personality types. Before she spoke, I could already tell something was wrong.
My back stiffened, I felt the blood rush to my cranium, my joints were aching and a feeling of disbelief washed over me. Due to the unfathomable amount of times I had heard the word ‘China’ in my past year, I believe I have been the subject of extremely effective subliminal messaging. Whatever the case may be, I decided to not have an opinion about China, without visiting for an extended period of time. I wanted to be able to feel confident in my understanding of China, not through economics or political theory, but to dig beneath the layers, abstract and murky as it may be.
A year later, I found myself in China’s political centre Beijing, studying as an exchange student in Beijing. What I experienced has hammered into me the importance of blending experience with learning. For instance, all the China ‘experts’ who were convinced about certain absolute truths, would have probably reconsidered had they actually visited China.
From the perspective of (IR), I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will continue to see the word ‘China’ plastered on every kind of resource, be it news articles or research papers. But I finally understand why. It is not simply just economic or political clout, but rather because it defies traditional IR theory on how countries become wealthy and mature. China is a paradox that leaves the world scratching their heads. I can only hope that one day, I can stop scratching my head.